Doris Kearns-Goodwin: Excuse Affairs to Get the 'Best People in Public Life'

In response to revelations of the extramarital affair that now former CIA Chief David Petraeus admitted to over the weekend, liberal historian Doris Kearns-Goodwin scoffed at the idea of holding highly placed public figures to account for their personal behavior.

On the Sunday, November 11 episode of NBC’s Meet The Press, Kearns-Goodwin made the point that we are too strict with our public officials, and because of that, we won’t get any more great presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and… Bill Clinton?

“What would we have done if FDR had not been our leader because he had an affair with Lucy Mercer? Think of the productive years that Clinton could have had if Monica Lewinsky hadn’t derailed them. We’ve got to figure out a way that we give a private sphere for our public leaders. We’re not gonna get the best people in public life if we don’t do that.”

Kearns-Goodwin also longed for the day when Americans paid little mind to the private lives of public figures. “I wish we could go back to the time when the private lives of our public figures were relevant only if they directly affected their public responsibilities.”

Of course, it is a bit disingenuous to claim that the private life of Franklin Roosevelt had never upset the American public. After all, the media of the day went to great pains to leave Americans totally in the dark about FDR’s life. The media wouldn’t even report to the country that Roosevelt had been permanently crippled by polio and could not walk, much less report anything about his apparent affair with Lucy Mercer, the long time Roosevelt secretary. So, there’s no telling what Americans might have thought about FDR’s dalliances.

Not just FDR. John Kennedy’s philandering private life (and his severe medical disabilities) was also hidden  from the American people by the Old Media.

But Author Bob Woodward, who was on the same Sunday show, undercut Kearns-Goodwin’s argument with his thoughts on the matter. Woodward made the convincing case that a CIA Director’s job gives him a “special status” due to the possibility that his untoward personal conduct could possibly serve as a tool for blackmail, which could in turn could endanger our country.

Still, it is an interesting thing to note that liberals claim that today we are “liberated” and have a society that is “more open,” yet in the past few American leaders that were caught in extramarital affairs were ever asked to resign from office over such conduct. Yet, in this “enlightened” age, politicians — both liberal and conservative — are kicked to the curb all the time when their affairs are outed. It’s hard to square that circle, isn’t it?

See Newsbusters for a full transcript of the segment.